Buying the best internet filter software is vital in order to keep your children safe and secure online. It's never been easier for kids to access the internet which - unfortunately - means they have never been more exposed to potential dangers.
If you install a top-quality filter, you can let your kids browse the web safe in the knowledge that they are much less likely to stumble across inappropriate content. The best internet filter products offer plenty of features to keep your kids safe. These include the ability to block harmful websites, limit your kids' access to social networks, and even stop them from downloading files. It keeps them safe while also keeping your devices safe too.
Some leading tools also allow parents to set screen time limits, view reports on internet usage, and even track kids' locations. Such features are ideal if your youngster is a little too prone to excessive browsing, or wandering off.
It's important to know that such software will work on all the devices your little ones use. No matter whether they use the best smartphones, the best laptops, or the best home computers, many of the tools below will protect them.
Once you've checked what operating system you need, you also need to consider if a complete internet security software package is best for you, or a standalone solution will suffice. We've looked at plenty and weighed up what works best when it comes to keeping your kids safe online. It’s important to consider pricing too as no one has an endless budget, even when safety is such a priority.
With plenty to think about, we've narrowed things down to six top internet filter options. Each will keep your kids safe online, whether you use one of the best smartphones, best laptops, best home computers or a combination, but it's useful to evaluate the features that they all offer as well as their performance during daily use.
Before you take the plunge, it’s crucial to ensure that any software will work on the devices that your children use, no matter whether they use the best smartphones, the best laptops or the best home computers. Some filters work everywhere, while others only function on certain operating systems.
There’s a final consideration, too: some complete security packages include internet filtering modules, while others are available as standalone, third-party tools. We’d weigh up whether you can keep your kids safe with the filter you may already have in an existing internet security product – or if you need a more robust standalone product with additional features.
There’s plenty to think about when it comes to keeping your kids safe online, but that’s why we’ve evaluated the features and performance of six top internet filter offerings. If you want your kids to be safe while they explore the internet, look no further.
1. Qustodio: Best Internet filter software overall
Qustodio is our top pick for internet filters in part because it is easy to install on both computers and smartphones. It’s also simple to use.
You can access each child’s profile from your phone and adjust their access and time allowances; you don’t have to be at a computer or on the device itself to adjust the settings. Qustodio has 29 filter categories to quickly and easily block websites and content children don’t need to see.
The time management controls let you control timeframes for internet access (so your child can’t get online when they are supposed to be asleep or at school), and they also let you control how long kids can stay logged on during allowed times. For example, if your kids are allowed online between 6pm and 9pm on school nights, you can set Qustodio to kick them off after an hour or two, controlling overall screen time.
Qustodio records a lot of details about what your children do online and provides a detailed report. While other programs simply tell you when your child has accessed their email account or chatted with someone through an instant messenger program, Qustodio captures the whole conversation. You can also tag words and phrases, such as "come alone" or “don’t tell your mom,” so if someone sends a message with these phrases, you will know.
2. Net Nanny: Best for monitoring your kids
Net Nanny is one of the cheapest internet filter programs we tested, but still includes the most important protection tools to block dangerous content online.
There are 18 filter categories to help you quickly restrict access to websites about pornography, drugs and alcohol, suicide and gore. The program sends an email alert if your child enables a proxy or privacy server to hide their internet searches.
One of the most unique features of Net Nanny is the profanity blocker that masks swear words on websites so your child can’t see or read them. It also prevents children from typing these words into search fields and chat messages. You can set it to change the funny words or symbols as they’re typed, or the program can completely erase the word. Net Nanny sends a notice through the parent reports when profanity was typed or blocked from being seen.
Net Nanny includes time controls to block kids from the internet when they should be asleep, at school, doing homework or chores. Because you can set up an account for each child, older children can be given longer time limits for school projects, online games or streaming videos. The biggest drawback of Net Nanny is that some important tools, such as social media monitoring, chat message capturing and text notifications for parents, require you to purchase a separate program that works alongside the Net Nanny internet filter program.
3. Kaspersky Safe Kids 2021: Best value internet filter app
While Internet filtering isn't something you should cut corners with, we appreciate that services vary wildly when it comes to price. Kaspersky Safe Kids is the lowest cost provider that we recommend, as it packs in the essential features and offers very detailed reports, but doesn't cost the earth. In terms of social media monitoring, it covers the big providers like Facebook and YouTube, and it'll happily track your family's usage across all the major iOS and Android devices. You get a very generous 500 devices per license, so you won't run out of these any time soon.
Kaspersky Safe Kids has many of the standard tracking tools too, like geo-tracking alerts for when your kids leave a certain safe zone, or they visit an area you've designed as 'off limits'. Handily, it'll also alert you when their phones are switched off or they run out of battery, including a last known location.
The downside is that some of the major social media platforms are not covered by this software, like Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat. It also lacks for some features on iOS that come as standard on Android and PC, so if your family exclusively uses Apple products, you may want to consider something like Net Nanny instead.
4. Surfie: Great for cell phones
Surfie is compatible with both Android and iOS cellphones and tablets, plus it has a Windows computer version. All versions let you filter and block web content you don’t want your children exposed to.
It comes with 18 filter categories that make it easy to block related websites under each category, including pornography, violence and online gaming. But you can also whitelist sites that you are okay with your child visiting, even if they fall under a filter category, or blacklist specific pages that don’t fall under a watched group. On top of web filters, Surfie lets you control when your child has internet access and how long they can be online, even on cellphones.
One of the best features of Surfie is its keyword monitor that alerts you if someone sends your child a test, email or instant message with words or phrases that tend to be red flags. These include several programmed phrases such as “don’t tell,” “are you home alone?” and “give me your phone number.” But you can also add your own keywords, and Surfie will shut down the program your child is using and internet access when one of them is used. It also works in reverse to monitor what your child sends, prohibiting them from using your tagged keyword and from sharing personal information online. All email, instant messages and text transcripts are recorded for you to read.
5. Bark: Best for detecting hidden threats
If social media is your biggest concern (and we suspect it is for most), then you have two great options. Net Nanny is good, and Bark also has a great range of features for keeping tabs on your kids across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. What's more, its monitoring tools work across messaging platforms too, like FB Messenger, WhatsApp, and Skype. It's perfect for keeping track of the conversations your kids are having, and with who.
It not only monitors the obvious trigger words, but also has an AI-powered learning system that detects upcoming threats and topics that kids shouldn't be exposed to. It also monitors behavior patterns, to prevent your kids from slipping too deep down rabbit holes, which is a brilliant feature in the current social media climate.
There are loads of other features like alerts, weekly reports, and the ability to prevent certain new apps from being downloaded to phones. The downsides are that it is expensive, and Bark isn't the best at deciding what's important and what isn't, so you'll find yourself with a lot of alerts to check through.
6. ContentBarrier: Best for Mac users
For Mac computers we highly recommend ContentBarrier by Intego. This internet filtering software is specifically designed for Mac computers and includes preset filter categories that make it easier to block harmful content.
You can add specific websites you want to block to the blacklist, or you can add a site blocked by the preset filters to the ContentBarrier whitelist if you feel it’s OK for your child to visit. ContentBarrier X9 also has time controls so you can ensure your kids are focused on homework, chores or bedtime instead of playing online. You can create separate accounts for each of your children with one program and set different filters for each depending on their age and maturity. The program does a good job blocking content, but it doesn’t record a lot of your child’s online activity for you to see later. It also is only compatible with Mac desktops and won’t work on iPhones, iPads or other Apple mobile devices.
Why trust us on website blockers?
Many of our writers are parents and understand how important it is to protect kids when they’re using the internet – especially when there are so many threats out there, from inappropriate content and communication to fake news, viruses and the threat of identity theft.
We’ve been testing parental control software and filtering tools for fifteen years, so we’ve tried out every major software package available.
What to look for in internet filter software
Every internet filtering app will have a range of pre-set blocklists that stop your children from accessing inappropriate content. They tend to cover a wide range of topics, but the best apps will have a broader range of pre-set lists – they’ll cover everything, from sexual and violent material to gambling and shopping sites. It’s also worth seeking out an app that supports custom blocklists if you’d like a little more control.
Most parental control apps have scheduling tools that can restrict how much time your kids spend online, and you’ll usually be able to set different rules for different days – so you can be stricter in the week, for instance, and more lenient at weekends.
Apps often have features that allow parents to monitor their kids’ search history and supervise what apps they’re using. Plenty of internet filtering tools watch social media apps to check that kids’ posts and conversations aren’t problematic. Those social media options are critical given how important those apps are to children and teenagers, but we’d always recommend that you check which apps are supported by each software package – it’s no good shelling out for a filtering tool if it doesn’t cover the apps that your kids love to use.
It’s worth seeking out a filtering tool that has a dashboard and regular reporting, so you can easily see summaries of your kids’ online activity. If you want to check on your kids in the real world, you can also find software that uses GPS tracking.
There are plenty of areas where apps offer a more diverse range of features. Some filtering and security tools can restrict device access, track calls and instant messages, and check what videos your kids are viewing.
How much does internet filter software cost?
As usual, there’s plenty of variety when it comes to internet filter software pricing – ideal if you’re on a budget.
Some packages cost as little as $15 for a year’s worth of product access, which is a small price to pay if you want to keep your kids safer on the internet. Most of the time, though, expect to pay at least $40 for annual access to the best website filtering tools – and expect that figure to rise if you want to monitor a larger number of devices.
If you already subscribe to a broader internet security package, though, we’d recommend you investigate its features before you subscribe to a third-party filtering tool. Loads of internet security packages already include parental control features and filtering tools. While they don’t supply the in-depth options that you’ll find in specialist products, they could still get the job done for your family without any extra cost.